Letter to the Editors from the June 1932 issue of the Socialist Standard
A correspondent (London, E.C.1) asks the following question:—
I notice that you class yourselves as "Marxists." How can you explain the following to be in accordance with S.P.G.B. principles. It is taken from Marx's criticism of the Gotha Programme.
The question, therefore, now arises, what transformation will the State-system experience in a communist society? . . . Between capitalist society and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding with this there will be a period of political transition, during which the State can be nothing other than the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. (Italics mine.)
Can you explain what Marx meant by the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat? Does not the above quotation show that the S.P.G.B. is at variance with Marx and Engels?
One of the questions put by our correspondent was answered by Engels himself in his introduction to the German edition of “The Civil War in France.” The introduction was written in London in 1891, on the 20th anniversary of the Commune. Translated into English, it was published in 1920 by the New York Labour News Company in a pamphlet called “The Paris Commune."
Engels’ introduction, after surveying the events of the Commune and the lessons to be drawn from it, concludes with the following words:—
The German philistine has lately been thrown once again into wholesome paroxisms by the expression “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Well, gentle sirs, would you like to know how this dictatorship looks? Then look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Commune was an instance of majority control based upon democratic elections. There was no suppression of the newspapers or the propaganda of the minority, and no denial of their right to vote. The Communards, having once obtained control of the State, set about democratising the machinery of legislation and administration. For example, they filled all positions of administration, justice, etc., through election by universal suffrage, the elected being at all times subject to recall by. their constituents. They also paid for all services at the workmen’s rate of pay.
This contrasts in a marked way with the Dictatorship in Russia—a dictatorship not of the proletariat, but of the leaders of the Communist Party.
In Russia the electoral system is not based upon universal suffrage and democratic elections. Many persons, for political reasons, are deprived of the right to vote. In proportion to population, the Town Soviets send to the District Soviets five times as many delegates as are allowed to the Village Soviets. The elections are not direct (as in Great Britain and most countries), but are indirect. That is to say, the All-Union Congress of Soviets is not elected by the electors at first hand, but is elected from Regional Congresses, which in turn are elected from District Soviets, which are elected by the Village and Town Soviets. The power of recall, owing to the devious route it has to follow, is impracticable.
Opposition propaganda and newspapers and opposition candidates for election are suppressed. The persons who are disfranchised are subjected to severe economic disabilities. It is made difficult for them to obtain food and lodging, and various rights are denied to them. (Recently there has been some alleviation of their condition.)
It was for years the rule that Communist Party members did not receive more than a fairly low maximum rate of pay, in this copying the Commune to some extent. It is reported now, however, that this rule has been relaxed since the middle of 1931, when the Russian Government announced a large-scale extension of the policy of inequality of pay among factory workers. It has also to be remembered that Communist Party members have been, and still are, privileged in being able to buy goods at specially low prices.
The Russian Government has for years practised inequality in the payment of those workers and officials who have not been members of the Communist Party and who, therefore, have not been affected by the rule referred to above.
The S.P.G.B.'s view on the transition period after the workers have obtained control of the machinery of Government is in line with that of Marx and Engels, and is opposed to the miscalled “dictatorship of the proletariat" in Russia.